Screening Oct. 31, The Girl is an extraordinary backstage look at legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, and his relationship with actress Tippi Hedren.
Actor Toby Jones impeccably assays Hitchcock’s voice and mannerisms, and radiant Sienna Miller is perfectly cast as Hedren, the struggling model Hitchcock plucked from obscurity to star in his 1963 thriller The Birds.
The Girl, which started with a story Hedren has related for years, is very, very creepy.
Hitch was famously obsessed with his blonde leading ladies, from Grace Kelly to Kim Novak, and director Julian Jarrold’s film — which is currently screening on HBO — explores his particular weakness for, and attempts to control, the inexperienced Hedren.
It was not a pleasant experience for her.
Those who wish to keep the great Hitchcock safely on a pedestal might want to avoid The Girl, but be forewarned the tale it tells has been verified by many who were there, including Hedren herself, who met with screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes, Miller and the film’s producer Amanda Jenks.
Jarrold and Jenks will be in Savannah for a Q&A following the screening.
As a director, was it daunting to start a project that in effect deconstructs one of the greatest directors of our time?
Julian Jarrold: Yes, it was. I have got form on this sort of thing — I foolishly made a film about Jane Austen, which dipped into marriage, romance and all the rest of it, and was somewhat controversial here (in England).
But it was also a treat, because it allowed one to really get back into all his films, and read all the biographies, and look into all his techniques and tricks. So in a way, it was a wonderful thing to be able to do. Really, the focus and the point of the piece was to look at the relationship between the two of them. What was fascinating for me was the way that the obsession in that relationship did appear to play out in many of his films. For me, it enriched the whole process, really.
Amanda Jenks: I think a lot of great auteurs are very complicated people, and they do ruin themselves and damage the people around them. I’m hoping we give an extraordinary insight into the psychology of the man who created some of the most fantastic and frightening movies of all time. I hope people don’t say “Oh my God, isn’t he awful?” Some of the private scenes between him and his first assistant director I find incredibly moving.
Hitchcock is so iconic. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what lay underneath.
Julian Jarrold: If it comes off as prurient, then it’s a failure. But I thought the story was a fascinating little window on that period, in the way Hollywood worked. An insight into that whole sort of dream factory. The Birds, Marnie, Vertigo, always had these strange obsessions in, which I never understood. I never understood Vertigo, and I’m not sure I still do. But you suddenly begin to see where the ideas are coming from. That doesn’t cheapen them at all to me — it shows how extraordinary these personal obsessions were able to be pushed into such a huge, successful Hollywood film.
Obviously, a public figure that’s held in very high esteem — especially in Britain, we want to claim him for ourselves — people don’t always like to hear that. But we’ll see. I certainly didn’t go into it worrying about that. I’m a big fan of Hitchcock, he was extraordinary. But what’s interesting was to wonder where those extraordinary things come from, and how they connect with his psychology.
Amanda Jenks: I’d be very disappointed if The Girl was misunderstood as a straightforward story of sexual harassment in the days of the casting couch. To me, it’s quite a complicated love story in which Hitch is as much a victim as Tippi, in a way. We hope that the filmn is portraying a man who is vulnerable and as fearful as he is powerful. And I think Toby Jones displays that with a great subtlety and intelligence. As the story progresses, I think your understanding and sympathy for Hitchcock grows. That’s what we intended.
Why do you think Hitchcock’s wife Alma put up with it?
Amanda Jenks: Our film asks that question, really. Relationships are complicated things, and I think that they were very much a team, like a lot of marriages. They worked together at every level. But I personally believe that something different happened with Tippi. I think it was possibly as much of a shock to Alma as it was to him and everybody around him.
Julian, obviously you’ve used some of Hitchcock’s techniques. There’s a great feeling of suspense in many of the scenes.
Julian Jarrold: Well, I didn’t want to do a pastiche of Hitchcock, because I think plenty of films have done that and failed very badly. But one wants to just give it the authentic feel of that time, and of his world. And the way he would have approached things. I know there are echoes of certain of his films in there, but I didn’t want to overdo that. They’re echoes and resonances, which I hope are there not just to say “Hey, I’m really clever, I can put in lots of Hitchcock references,” but because they actually relate to the conflict that’s going on between him and her.
Toby Jones must have done an incredible amount of work, not just the prosthetics and the fat suit. What was he like to work with?
Julian Jarrold: He’s wonderful. I met him a while back, and he doesn’t particularly look or sound like Hitchcock. As he pointed out to me. For both of us, it was very daunting, because people have quite a fair idea of what Hitchcock should look and sound like. That was the first hurdle to get over.
He always performed in front of the camera, Hitchcock, so you never new quite what he was like when the camera was turned off. Because he was a showman.
Toby is unbelievably diligent. He spent a long time going through every interview there is of him. He worked with a voice coach to really analyze his speech patterns. And the way he moved. He really absorbed himself in that world, so when we came to rehearse it, he was very much almost there.
For him I think the prosthetics were very important, because it’s almost like a mask, isn’t it? That you wear. You almost feel you actually are that person. On set, he was in character all the time. End of the day, he was back to Toby.
I’ve said it a few times: There were two directors on this set, and one of them was quite a powerful character!
The Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock film is coming out soon. How does it relate to your movie?
Julian Jarrold: I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know. It’s rather peculiar, isn’t it, that nobody makes a film about Hitchcock for however many years, and then two come along at the same time. I guess I shall watch it at some point, but maybe long after our film has gone out.
The Girl screens at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31 at the Trustees Theater, followed by a Q&A with Julian Jarrold and Amanda Jenks.